Why Interviewing Is More Painful than Stepping on a Lego

You’re standing at the edge of a child’s playroom; it’s dark – no lights, no moonlight coming in the window. You know there are tiny building blocks – Legos™ – scattered across the floor. As you stand there, considering how you’ll get from here to there, your bare, sensitive feet are starting to clench up at the thought of stepping on one of those tiny, sharp cornered blocks. Have you wondered why it hurts so bad?

The answer is that Legos™ are made to last. According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, Software developer Phillipe Cantin put Legos™ to the test by designing a Lego stress test machine. Cantin discovered that Legos™ can be put together and taken apart 37,112 times before they give out, and the tiny bricks can withstand 950 pounds before breaking. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-much-abuse-can-a-single-lego-brick-take-343398/)

What’s that got to do with interviewing? While most interviewers do not need to conduct 37,112 interviews or be under 950 pounds of pressure to break, they may agree that conducting an interview can, sometimes, be as painful as stepping on a Lego™.

Let’s look at five reasons interviews can be painful and, more important, let’s look at possible solutions.

1. How much do you really learn about the candidate from an interview?

Interviews are often a test of the interviewer’s patience. For example, in response to your question, the candidate repeats the same information that’s in their resume, and you never learn more than you already knew. This is frustrating and can leave you with the feeling of time wasted.

The solution to this problem is to ask open-ended questions about information not on the standard application/resume/cover letter. These questions are often situational scenarios. For example: How you would handle an irate customer? What would you do if you saw an employee stealing from the company?

2. A candidate who is late to an interview makes your entire day run behind schedule

Things don’t always go as we plan and that can happen to anyone at any time. The car breaks down, there’s a traffic accident, public transportation runs late – these are just a few examples of situations that can cause your interview candidate to be late to his or her scheduled appointment. Too many late-shows for interviews, and your entire schedule is disrupted.

One solution to this problem is to include, in your interview packet, specific instructions for the candidate with regard to unavoidable delays. First, the candidate should make an effort to notify you, if possible. Second, if the interview is delayed for more than “x” amount of time (you get to set the limit), the interview will have to be re-scheduled, and it’s the candidate’s responsibility to do so.

3. The candidate replies to questions as if they are playing a part in a play (memorized answers)

I’ve had the experience, from time to time, of conducting an interview with a candidate who sounds so well-rehearsed in every answer that I feel like I’m watching a performance. The problem is that I don’t end up feeling like I have gotten to know the person behind the performance.

Once again, the nonstandard, open-ended question is the solution. If you are prepared with original, unexpected, open-ended questions, then the interview candidate will not have a rehearsed answer. You’ll learn more about the candidate, and possibly see how passionate he is about the answer.

4. Candidate avoids the questions you ask and purposely gets off topic

Some candidates pride themselves on their ability to guide the interview. When this happens, you lose control of what you hoped to learn about the candidate and you give the candidate false hope about how well they did at impressing you.

The solution is to practice some transitions to guide the conversation back to the question you asked. For example, you might say, “How interesting an experience you had! What did you learn from it that applies to our situation in this company?” Or you might say, “It’s interesting to hear about [whatever the candidate said], and I’d like to hear you talk about how that has affected your plans for the future in a possible job with this company?”

5. The candidate uses his or her response to your question as an opening to criticize his former employer

Criticizing a former employer (company or boss) is a tactic that some candidates use, probably to show how valuable/effective/important he or she was in a situation where others were wrong/ineffective/”stupid.” It usually has the opposite effect on interviewers, and it also creates a certain amount of stress for the interviewer: one has to overcome the negative reaction to unbecoming behavior by the candidate in order to remain as objective as possible.

A solution is to abruptly change the subject in order to (a) signal to the candidate that you won’t participate in the criticism and, (b) get the candidate off the subject. Another solution: meet it head-on. Ask the candidate what he or she learned from the experience, perhaps by saying, “We’ve all had the experience of working with someone we didn’t respect very highly. What did you learn about yourself from this experience? How would you handle a similar situation in the future?”

Conducting difficult interviews is not as painful as stepping on Legos™ in your bare feet in the middle of the night, but they can produce stress and exhaustion that diminishes your effectiveness. In addition to being prepared for the interview in all the ways we’ve talked about in previous blogs, use some of these tips to be ready to get an interview back on track when things seem to be going wrong.